Why am I doing a masters in Mechanical Engineering?
I am finally going to graduate school.
When I finished my bachelors of engineering I was certain I would never ever go on to study masters in engineering. 4 years were enough. Even though I had a good time at college, it was not studies which were the defining part. It was meeting people and the experience of living on my own. In fact, my friendships from that period are some of my closest friendships even now.
Instead of engineering, I did want to get into management then. I tried halfheartedly to get into IIM. But half efforts lead to no results so that was the end of it.
That's 16 years now – 16 years spent in software, even though I studied electronics engineering.
And now that I am finally going back to study engineering why would I go and do what I liked the least – Mechanical Engineering?
Steps are in your control but the results are not
In my bachelors of engineering course the first two years and especially the first are spent learning common things about being an engineer. mathematics and physics but also subjects like basics of mechanical engineering, heat transfer and internal combustion engines. Then there are workshops on machining, wood working and sheet metal works etc.
I just did not like the whole do the work with hands job. I was there to study electronics and I just glazed through the courses which I felt were just there to waste my time.
It is ironic that I am going to get masters in those subjects.
I didn't intend to but the universe moves in strange ways.
You networth is equal to your network
I have always been interested in robotics. My undergraduate thesis was building a differential drive robot which could navigate obstacles.
However since 2016 I REALLY became interested in robotics. I think we are at the cusp of a robotics revolution. The next few decades are going to be seminal for robotics. It is going to go mainstream. Not just in manufacturing where it rules already but in everyday life. And not just autonomous cars but autonomous robots for everything! The reasons being the sweet cusp of advances in cloud/edge computing, machine learning and cheaper hardware.
I tried learning myself and took many relevant courses and specializations on Coursera and I think I do understand modern robotics quite well. But I don't want an education in robotics. I mean not just the education. I want to build and sell robotics products.
In other words I want to build a robotics company.
That I have not been able to do.
While there are many reasons why I have not been able to do that, I feel it boils down to not being able to find a founding team. The truth is, I do not know enough people skilled in robotics or even enough people who are interested in robotics.
When I moved back to Finland, I started a robotics meetup to fix that problem but I also figured that going to campus could be one way to build my network of robotics enthusiasts. Admittedly, it is a circuitous way to get a founding team considering that Peter Thiel was offering scholarship to drop college but as I saw right now it was my best way.
So last winter I applied to number of programs related to robotics here in Finland. I applied to Aalto University, University of Tampere, University of Oulu, University of Turku and Lappeenranta University of Technology.
Some of the programs were held in computer science departments, some in automation and electrical engineering and some in mechanical engineering.
I didn't want to take up mechanical engineering but it was fallback just in case.
Because I am weak in mechanics. When I was taking online courses, while I sailed past courses in software and control I had trouble doing the mechanics portions.
Mechanics scares me.
To grow, do what hurts most
I studied electronics engineering and worked in software so the only major portion of robotics which I am not good at is mechanics.
I applied to two programs at Aalto. Automation and Electrical engineering and Mechanical Engineering, with the first one being the top choice.
I chose automation and electrical engineering just because I thought it will be easier for me. However, I did not get accepted into that program. Surprisingly, I got accepted into mechanical engineering. I had less hopes for being accepted there, because, I thought, I would be rejected for not having enough background education.
For example, I was rejected by Lappeenranta for the same reason.
Along with Aalto I was also accepted into University of Oulu and University of Turku and I had to now make a decision. Join robotics from a computer science perspective or bite the bullet and do the right stuff and fix the knowledge gaps in mechanics.
I chose the hard, and I believe, the right option. I signed up for Mechanical Engineering.
Of course Aalto is also the most convenient choice from logistics point of view. Changing cities etc is not fun anymore to me. I have done that too many times already.
So it's mechanical engineering but why now?
I have been preparing for this moment for a long time. For too many years I have said I will build a company but I have always found reasons for not doing it. Now I am determined to make it happen and the best way, and perhaps the stupid way, is to burn the ships and figure out now what?
For me that means closing the Microsoft tap and let's see where I end up.
Working in Microsoft is like a drug, especially the stocks. It keeps you in there year after year as the stocks drip feed into your bank account. To let go of that and suffer the withdrawal pains is certainly not going to be easy for me but I have been preparing.
My wife just graduated from Aalto herself from the media department and has settled into her UX design job. I feel confident that our family lifestyle ,which we have consciously downsized for this moment, can be maintained by her as I dedicate myself to other endeavors.
I live in a small house, have no cars and no personal loans. I have lived like this so that one day I can jump start my company.
That time is now.
Also the pandemic has strengthened my resolve. First I see robotics playing an even larger role as we prepare for the next pandemic. Second my access to lab equipment just vanished. No maker space, no library workshops. NOTHING! Simulation in robotics goes only so far. Robotics is physical, it is tangible and I need access to labs and machines to make my concepts happen.
Going to campus gives me that access. Sure there might be other ways but this is one way.
Honesty and HARD effort does work...
Even though I thought I would never do masters again, I did apply a number of times earlier to get into other program. Those efforts were however another halfhearted attempt. I was not really interested in studying machine learning or industrial engineering and management. It would have been a stepping stone to build a network but I think my motivation showed through my letter.
This time I was honest. I'd say my letter was dripping with honesty.
I worked in identifying the right set of people to get a recommendation letter from and had to track for months to get it.
I took so many courses to demonstrate to the admissions that I was serious in the education and was that I would be able to successfully handle the workload of a research based masters.
I wrote about all this in my letter. No pretense. Just plain truth.
Here is the letter if you are interested.
Make something useful. Add value to this world
My life goal(one of them) is to build a valuable robotics company. I want to solve problems humans face. Cliched, but true, I want to make this world a better place.
I feel at Aalto I will have my chance to do that.
I will be hard, I know that. I am not good at mechanics.
I think it would be worth it. I am determined that I can build a founding complementary team and a company with a solid direction.
Off to the biggest adventure. Let's begin my Robo Quest.
PS: Even though I mentioned burning the ships with Microsoft, I am technically on a study leave.